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Over the last few years we have grown used to hearing about cheating scandals at all levels-from elementary schools to universities. These high-profile cases point to a very sobering reality: cheating is endemic in high schools, and for many this behavior continues into their college years. 

To help our students as they transition to college, we must first realize that there is no single explanation for the prevalence of cheating in high school. Most students have inherited from their parents and families a genuine, solid moral foundation. However, in times of stress that foundation can waver, clear thinking does not always prevail, and students do not always live up to the ideals they have been taught and even embrace. Students are still developing morally and some have not yet grasped the conviction that moral integrity is more valuable than seemingly attractive, immediate gains. Poor time management, inadequate knowledge/skills, peer pressure to "help" others, looming deadlines, pressure to receive high grades, carelessness with the rules of citation, undue focus on grades over learning, and a lack of belief in the value of the work being done can coalesce to create a perfect storm during which dishonesty appears the only recourse.  The result is a high-school culture in which cheating has become "normal" and the lack of serious consequences has lulled them into thinking cheating is a low-risk way to succeed.

So what can you do to help your student succeed academically at Roanoke College?

First, students need to know that they are about to embark on a very different kind of learning experience. Students will find that at Roanoke College our courses are not focused on busy work that simply needs to be "completed," but on mastering the knowledge and skills that will enable them to lead meaningful lives and contribute to their communities. Talk with them about the value of their education and their coursework. Encourage them to plan their time well and to seek out additional help when necessary. Most of all help them see the great opportunity that lies ahead: to gain the knowledge and skills that will allow them succeed wherever life may take them.

Second, students need to know that since we believe integrity and honesty are essential for participating in the RC community and for success beyond RC, we will hold students to the highest standards of academic honesty.  Cheating of any kind (including unauthorized collaboration, plagiarism, and other forms of deception) is unacceptable.  Accordingly, the penalties for violating our academic integrity code are much more serious than in most high schools. We will educate students about their academic integrity obligations during the beginning of their first semester, and we remind them of these obligations on every class syllabus.  You can support these efforts by taking the time to talk with your student about academic honesty.  Few high school students have ever spoken with an adult about the culture of cheating. Few have reflected on their own participation in that culture and whether they wish that kind of behavior to define their character and their lives. Please consider talking with your student this summer about the importance of integrity in their coursework and the more rigorous expectations that college will place upon them in this area. The discussion questions below offer some ideas on how to broach this sensitive topic with your student.

In sum, make sure your student knows your priorities for their education and their character.  It takes courage and strength to live a life of integrity, and we look forward to working alongside parents so that at graduation we can all take pride in the degree your student has earned.

Jennifer K. Berenson

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Administration

berenson@roanoke.edu

 

Discussion Questions:

Ask your student about his or her perception of academic dishonesty in school. How prevalent is cheating? What kinds of cheating occur? Are students confused about what constitutes cheating? Were their teachers aware of cheating? How did they respond?

Ask your student why students at times intentionally cheat. (More often than not, students cheat when they are trying to complete a complex assignment in a short amount of time.) Ask what a student should do in that situation. Encourage asking for extensions, turning in incomplete work, or turning in nothing at all rather than turning in work based on dishonesty. It is far better to get a zero on an assignment than to fail a course. Ask what a student should do to avoid being in that situation in the first place.

Ask your student why a professor might require that certain assignments be completed without the assistance of others. Ask your student how he or she would respond if a fellow student asked for help on such an assignment (e.g., sharing a lab report or paper, fixing errors in a problem set). Discuss some possible responses that would preserve your student's integrity and still maintain a friendship.

Ask your student to consider how an academic integrity violation might affect their future opportunities. (A penalty lighter than an F in the course is rare for any academic integrity violation; suspension and even expulsion are possible outcomes. Violations can limit participation in certain RC programs, and because violations become a part of a student's permanent record, scholarships, graduate school admission, and job opportunities can be affected.)

Encourage your student to be pro-active in pursuing academic integrity by reflecting on their academic skills (e.g., note-taking, organization, planning) and their ability to manage time effectively. Offer suggestions about how to improve in these areas. Ask whether he or she has ever been unsure about whether something needed to be cited or put in quotation marks. If additional instruction is needed, take a look at the Academic Integrity website (see link below) for more resources. Most importantly, encourage your student to talk with professors if uncertain about whether some behavior would be considered dishonest.

Ask your student to what extent your own desire for your student to be successful might have been interpreted as pressure to get "good" grades, no matter the means. Ask your student to think about any self-imposed pressure they experience. Remind students that a "B" or "C" earned honestly is far more valuable than an "A" awarded on the basis of dishonest work.

These discussion questions are adapted from the University of Missouri (http://osrr.missouri.edu/parents/index.html).